Life is challenging for people with disabilities, especially when it comes to the issue of mobility. This concern not only applies to short distances, like getting in and out of a room or building but also when travelling and going around town.
The good news is that modern vehicles are making it much easier for them to go places and live their lives like any other member of society. However, cars aren't usually designed to be wheelchair-accessible from the get-go. Instead, car models that are big enough are converted for wheelchair use with aftermarket car parts and matching car accessories.
What to Consider When Buying a Wheelchair-Accessible Vehicle
The first thing to consider when shopping for a wheelchair-accessible vehicle is whether to get a brand new vehicle or a second-hand one.
A brand new vehicle that's specifically designed for wheelchair users could be a challenge. In some cases, you might need to have them imported from overseas. If you purchase a standard brand new vehicle, you'd then have to have it converted to become wheelchair-friendly. As mentioned before, this involves sending it to a specialist to fit the car with aftermarket car parts and accessories that make it possible for a wheelchair user to get in and out of the vehicle quickly. This option may cost you more time, money, and effort, but the benefit is that you get a brand new car that's tailored to fit your personal needs.
As an alternative, you might find it much easier to get a pre-owned vehicle that's already been converted for wheelchair access. This vehicle may not be tailored perfectly for your use, but at least it'll come with all the aftermarket car parts that you'll need. As a matter of perspective, you could also say that a pre-owned wheelchair-accessible vehicle is tried and tested. If it worked well for another wheelchair user, it’s safe to assume that it'll serve you well, too!
Getting Your Vehicle Converted for Wheelchair-Accessibility
Assuming you're buying a standard brand new vehicle, you'll need to get it converted for wheelchair-accessibility. You can find companies in most parts of Australia that specialise in making cars more accessible for people with all sorts of disabilities.
Typically, larger vehicles like MPVs and vans are more suited for wheelchair use. These vehicles can be modified for side or rear entry and allow for more seating options as well.
When fully-converted, these vehicles will allow wheelchair-users to enter using a ramp, winch, or other aids. Another possible modification is to install powered seats that extend all the way out of the car. This method would allow you to transfer yourself from your wheelchair to the seat before being lifted into the vehicle.
Top 10 Most Wheelchair-Accessible Car Models
Whether you're buying it pre-owned or brand new to be converted, here are ten wheelchair-accessible car models you can find in Australia. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it should provide you with a great place to start.
1. Kia Carnival YP
The Kia Carnival YP is the third and most recent generation of the Carnival on the Aussie market. This vehicle is a minivan made by Kia Motors with a front-engine and four-wheel-drive configuration.
This people-mover minivan first appeared in Australia in 1999 (first generation, Carnival KV). If you or someone under your care uses a wheelchair, you may appreciate that this minivan is spacious inside and has five doors. This makes it easier for wheelchair users and their caregivers to enter and exit the vehicle, especially after it's been converted for wheelchair accessibility using aftermarket parts.
2. Honda Odyssey
The Japanese-manufactured Honda Odyssey comes in two body types: the station wagon and the minivan. In this context, we'll be focusing on the minivan version.
The minivan version of the Honda Odyssey also has five doors, and it makes a very functional vehicle for wheelchair users and their family members.
3. VW Caddy Range
The Volkswagen Caddy is classed as a leisure activity vehicle (LAV). However, like all the other vehicles on this list, you'll find that it has a very spacious interior and is conducive to being converted for wheelchair accessibility.
This German vehicle has been around since 1978 but only got to Oz in 2005 as a commercial panel van initially. The people mover body style followed shortly and became such a big hit with its availability in diesel option. The present generation comes in various body types, like the 3- or 4-door van, 3-door panel van, 4-door MPV and 2-door coupe utility.
While it could be said that all versions of the VW Caddy are wheelchair accessible, I would argue that the MPV version would be the best choice here. Firstly, the 2-door coupe utility version would probably be a tight fit. At the same time, the van and panel van versions look a little too utilitarian for everyday use.
The MPV version of the VW Caddy, however, looks very attractive on the outside. Combining this with its wheelchair-friendliness, you would have yourself a cool car and one that also caters to your unique needs!
4. Kia Soul
The Kia Soul is another wheelchair-accessible vehicle. This car is a subcompact crossover SUV made by South Korean manufacturer Kia Motors.
Among other factors, the car's five doors and seating configurations make it easy for a wheelchair user to make the most of this vehicle.
5. Toyota Tarago
This people-mover is known as the Toyota Previa in other markets but is called the Toyota Tarago in Australia. Whatever nameplate it goes by in your country, this is another one great example of Toyota's people-mover vans that's also useful for wheelchair users.
The Toyota Tarago is the second-largest minivan produced by Toyota. With reconfigurable passenger seating, this is yet another vehicle that is very conducive for wheelchair-users and their caregivers.
6. Toyota Rukus
Unlike many of the larger cars shared so far, the Toyota Rukus is a much smaller compact hatchback. Known as the Toyota Corolla Rumion outside of Australia, this car has five doors and was in production until 2015.
Thanks to its hatchback, this car can be easily converted for wheelchair-access with a ramp.
Whether you're operating the car yourself (with aftermarket parts like hand controls) or riding as a passenger, the compact size of this car makes it much easier to manoeuvre and park. This is especially true when compared to the larger people-movers mentioned earlier.
If you’re fortunate enough to find a good-condition second-hand Rukus, it deserves your attention. Do give it a second look and see if it’s suitable for your needs.
7. Renault Kangoo
The Renault Kangoo is more of a light commercial vehicle that's also used for leisure activities. It comes in four- and five-door versions. Where this car comes in handy is with how the rear seats can be removed to make more space either for cargo or for aftermarket wheelchair equipment. With a spacious passenger area, you could convert this car and have it fitted with wheelchair mounting points and restraints to keep you from moving around. On top of that, the rear makes it easier to install a wheelchair ramp for easy entry and exit.
8. Chrysler Grand Voyager
If you're looking for an upmarket American-made option, the Grand Voyager by Chrysler could be what you want. This car is a minivan with 3- or 4-door options. One reason why this car made this list is due to how its interior seating can be reconfigured in many different ways.
This flexibility in the seating arrangements means that it can be converted easily to allow for a ramp and all the accompanying parts to make it wheelchair friendly. Like the Rukus, however, this is an out-of-production model, but you may look around for it in second-hand car markets and online used car buy-and-sell platforms.
9. Proton Exora
The Proton Exora is a compact MPV made a little closer to home in Malaysia. With five doors and seven seats, it'll be easy for you to get in and out of the vehicle, with lots of interior space for you to sit comfortably. The Proton Exora first appeared in Australia in mid-2013 and was, at least at that time, the cheapest MPV in Australia.
10. Mercedes Vito
Last but not least, the crème de la crème of wheelchair-accessible vehicles: the Mercedes Vito. Classed as a light commercial vehicle, this one comes in either van or minibus body types. No matter what body type you choose, you'll still be riding around in style in this German-made luxury vehicle.
By Ray Hasbollah